Most of us engage in magical thinking when it comes to the long term fate of our digital belongings. This magical thinking may manifest itself in several ways: technological optimism (“JPEG is so common; why would it stop working?”), radical ephemeralism (“It’s like a fire: you just have to move on”), or simply a gap between principals and practice (“I don’t know why I never made a copy of those photos.”). At this point, a strategy that hinges on benign neglect and lots of copies seems to be the best we can hope for.
For the last few years, with various collaborators, I have tried to understand the current state of personal digital archiving in practice with the aim of designing services for the long-term storage, preservation, and access of digital belongings. Our studies have not only confirmed that experienced computer users have accumulated a substantial amount of digital stuff that they care about, but also that they have already lost irreplaceable artifacts such as photos, creative efforts, research